Word for Word 2/24/21

Rev. Laura Gentry
Rev. Laura Gentry

Got Gratitude?

Is the pandemic getting you down?

Our world has been turned upside down in the past year. We have endured so much!  Some of us have lost loved ones due to the coronavirus, we fear for our own health, our financial stability is threatened, we’re unable to gather with other people the way we used to. Everyone has been affected in one way or another. So if you’re feeling exhausted and hopeless, you’re not alone.

In 2019, one in ten adults in the US reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, but in 2020, that number jumped to four in ten, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a nonprofit organization focusing on national health issues, as well as the U.S. role in global health policy. They also found that many adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping, eating, increases in alcohol consumption or substance use, and worsening chronic conditions due to stress over the coronavirus.

Saint Paul wrote: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Give thanks? You’ve got to be kidding me! Didn’t Paul know how difficult our lives would be in 2021?

He certainly didn’t. But he endured constant persecution, prison on more than one occasion, stoning, shipwrecks and much more. Yet through it all, he discovered that he could always find something for which to give thanks. Paul was committed to his belief that God is good, even when that isn’t immediately apparent and this enabled him to remain faithful and unshakably joyful.

Today, we talk about this mindset as gratitude. In the past decade scientists have proven what ancient scripture already knew: practicing gratitude can significantly bolster both emotional and physical health. Recently, they’ve found that even people with depression or other mental health issues can benefit significantly from adopting a gratitude practice.

Practicing gratitude in a way that can get you through this pandemic will take more than just giving God thanks when you feel like it. You’ll need to take time every day to think about what you’re thankful for. Over time it will become a habit that, according to positive psychology, will actually rewire your brain for good. This is incredible! No wonder Paul recommended it.

It’s Lent right now, the six-week period of time leading up to Easter. Christians around the world turn their hearts back to God to prepare for the resurrection of Christ. It’s a great time to start a new spiritual discipline. May I suggest a gratitude practice?

A simple internet search of “gratitude practice” will turn up endless ideas for how to begin but let me advise you to start small: commit to write down three things each day for which you’re grateful. You have to do it for it to work, though. So go out and buy a cute little notebook that you can keep by your bedside or carry around in a purse or bag. I’ve found that having the notebook provides a physical reminder that helps me follow through with daily practice.

Two years ago, I downloaded a free app for my phone called Gratitude. It allows you to write things down, choose a fun color and even add a picture to each entry. Because I usually have my phone close by, this makes keeping a gratitude journal easier than ever before. It has been the best resource for my personal practice of gratitude. At my church’s website, LansingLutherans.org, I have provided a link to this and other gratitude apps that can help you.

The final piece of advice I have about practicing gratitude comes from neuroscientist Rick Hanson. He says you have to allow the good things in your life to really sink in. Don’t just write them down, feel the happiness with your whole body. Take a few moments to savor the experience. That makes all the difference. I like to take a few deep breaths and offer a word of prayer. Whenever possible, I tell a friend about it as well.

It is my hope that this season of Lent gives you the opportunity to begin or renew your gratitude practice. May it help you focus on the many small blessings that come to you each day - even in the midst of a pandemic - and give you peace.

Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. - Philipians 4:4

Pastor Laura Gentry
Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Lansing

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